Last night, the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT), a group describing itself as ‘anti-bloodsports’, published covert video footage it claims was filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The footage shows a crow cage trap in woodland, the trap had been baited with live pigeons (this is an offence) and a young goshawk was attracted to the bait, entered the trap and then couldn’t escape. A masked man is then recorded entering the trap, pinning the goshawk to the side netting with a stick so he could grab the bird, and then removing it from the trap and walking away with it (also an offence). The goshawk’s fate is not shown.
[Screen grab from the HIT covert footage]
The video can be watched on YouTube here.
There are concerns amongst some conservationists, including me, that releasing this footage at this stage could jeopardise any potential prosecution. This is (was?) an active police investigation, the estate had been searched, police had seized various items and a number of employees are (were?) due to be questioned this week. Norfolk Police were doing a good job by all accounts and there wasn’t any reason to question their commitment to the investigation.
I doubt very much whether Norfolk Police gave their blessing to release this footage at this stage of the investigation.
The HIT team have already published potentially libellous commentary on Twitter (which I won’t repeat here, for obvious reasons) and they said this about releasing the footage at this stage of the investigation:
‘We do not believe in sitting on evidence for months and years on end, hoping for an unlikely prosecution whilst wildlife is relentlessly killed. People need to know what goes on within shooting estates and to be empowered to act‘.
I do sympathise with this view, and I guess it’s a reflection of the many police failures to investigate allegations of illegal fox-hunting (which is an area in which the HIT team are very experienced) and failures of some police forces to investigate raptor persecution. People get frustrated when the authorities repeatedly refuse to investigate what looks like clear criminal activity, and so they decide to do what they think is right. But from my point of view, with this particular investigation, Norfolk Police had responded well and were actively pursuing enquiries so the premature release of this footage by the HIT team is hard to comprehend. I wish they’d waited a few more days.
It’s out there now though. And the camera is well-positioned and the footage is very clear.
I hope the release hasn’t jeopardised this police investigation by compromising the planned employee interviews. Even if the case does reach court, a top QC (because let’s face it, that’s who would be representing the defendants) would make light work of drawing attention to this footage and the associated commentary and could argue the defendants wouldn’t get a fair trial.
Let’s see what happens.
UPDATE 16th May 2022: Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on van Cutsem’s estate (here)